Long Beach: The rest of the racing series lineup

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The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend is one of the busiest on the calendar. Although the Verizon IndyCar Series is the headliner there’s plenty of other action to look forward to over the course of the 40th running:

  • TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. What a shift it will be for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which goes from 36 hours of racing in Florida to kick off the year to 100 minutes of racing at the historic streets. With only 21 cars entered, traffic shouldn’t be an issue nearly as bad as the 60-plus cars combined of the series’ four classes. Just P and GT Le Mans race this weekend, and there should be a bevy of action for both in Saturday’s race.
  • Pirelli World Challenge. Also down in car count from its season opener, but like the TUDOR Championship, it’s due to limited available paddock space in Long Beach. As it is, there’s still going to be 40 cars – 20 apiece between GT and GTS – ringing their necks out in the 50-minute sprint race Sunday following the IndyCar race. Some great battles emerged at St. Pete; although overall winner Tomas Enge isn’t competing due to a prior conflict, still plenty of cars and stars to watch.
  • Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. The only rung of the Mazda Road to Indy that makes the trip out to Long Beach, there’s been a wealth of success achieved by eventual series champions in this race. Nine drivers won Long Beach and later won the title that same year: Paul Tracy (1990), Eric Bachelart (’91), Steve Robertson (’94), Greg Moore (’95), David Empringham (’96), Cristiano da Matta (’98), Scott Dixon (2000), Townsend Bell (’01) and, most recently, J.R. Hildebrand in 2009. Of the 12 drivers entered, only St. Petersburg winner Zach Veach, Gabby Chaves and Juan Pablo Garcia have past track experience – the other nine are all making their track debuts.
  • Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Always a highlight of the weekend, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race Saturday afternoon is both a great charity fundraiser and a chance for potential carnage, although things have cleaned up in recent years. The entry list is linked here.
  • SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks. Robby Gordon’s series makes an encore to the streets of Long Beach on Sunday afternoon. The jumps surrounding the 1.968-mile street course are going to be pounded as the trucks hit them.
  • Super Drift. The night-cap on Friday and Saturday provides a bit of action to match the Southern California car culture. Drifting is always a treat to watch around the streets of Long Beach.

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”